Random talk

Give it all to me, baby
Give it all to me, baby

Not long ago, I read an article in papermag.com in which David LaChapelle interviewed Steve Sasson, the creator of the first digital camera. I mean, serious business here. There’s a lot of myh on the invention of the digital camera, I mean, that of Kodak locking Sasson in a closet and the evil board of directors hiding the blueprints of the gizmo at the bottom of a safe so that tech breakthrough didn’t ever see the light of day. That isn’t accurate. It’s true that Kodak failed at making the transition from basically a chemical company into a digital imaging one, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try. In fact they were making zillions out of licensing the digital camera patent to third parties, sometimes even mounting Kodak sensors onto their camera models. If Kodak didn’t want to make a profit out of this patent, we wouldn’t have seen our first digital camera until 2005, when the original US patent expired. They wanted to sell digital cameras, but, much like Xerox in the 80’s, they failed to translate the fact that they had all the relevant patents into a position of total market dominance. They tried. And failed.

Back to the interview, LaChapelle starts by thanking Sasson for all the good things digital cameras have brought. First of all, not getting cancer by breathing toxic fumes from mutagenic fluids. That’s a huge point. Even us, the analog bunch, must admit that this is a huge point. Digital imaging emancipating photography from chemistry has been as important as photography itself liberating painting from the need of realism. Yes. there have been serious drawbacks. The economy around photography has gone through a severe reconversion since the first commercially available digital cameras: erasing chemistry off the equation and replacing it with one and zeroes has also erased all those jobs related to chemistry in the photography world. It’s devastating that someone has to lose their job, and, believe me I know most than many; but the inherent benefits of computing vs. polluting the planet, killing lab technicians, having to wait for results, need for highly skilled personnel for the most simple editing, etc. are too apparent to give up. Digital photography has made both pro and casual photogs’s lives simpler. It’s like the Dark Side: faster… easier. And you know what, little padawan? I’ve never got what’s wrong with the Dark Side. Photography wise, you don’t get better than fast and easy.

Of course, there are those who keep the old ways. In the digital imaging brave new world, we still love the stink of fixer, same way those pagans still loved a good old human sacrifice no matter what those Christians said. We are the alphas of photography. The whole pack. All alpha. But no, I’m not going to boast on my analog superpowers today.   

Jobs weren’t the only thing lost with digital photography. For camera design, digital imaging was like an asteroid hitting the Gulf of Mexico with the power of a million atom bombs: most evolutive lines gone extinct overnight with a few survivors diversifying after the event. It’s utterly futile to go with the wat ifs and to lucubrate too much on what would have happened, but sometimes I just wonder how would have everything been if digital photography never existed.

If I tell you to think about classic or iconic SLRs, you would probably think in the Nikon F or the Asahi Pentax. Or if you don’t know too much about cameras, in a light-tight box with a lens that reads ‘50mm’ on, covered in fine leather, with chrome and shiny parts. Because in the world of Platonic Ideas, SLRs are all chrome and shiny and wrapped in leather, like the gods intended. Maybe if camera design of the 1990’s had kept evolving our definition of a 35mm SLR or even a rangefinder, would be very different.

Just think of it: in the early 90’s 35mm cameras had reached a point in which low-end user cameras were functionally better than pro cameras had been just 10 years ago, and pro, hi-tech cameras were becoming more and more exquisite. Take the case of the Contax SLRs, made by Kyocera: they developed a system for auto-focussing your lenses by moving the film plane instead of the lens, which is revolutionary, because this is radically different not only from more conventional autofocus solutions but also from what focussing a 35mm has always been. By moving the film plane further into the body of the camera, it also gave you the equivalent of 10mm of macro tubing just by pressing a button. Macro. With. Any. Lens. To be honest, it wasn’t the fastest autofocus ever, but it was fast enough for most journalism jobs, and who knows what would have happened if the Contax SLR line hadn’t gone digital. Oh, also by Kyocera, there was another camera which incorporated a film flattening system without a pressure plate by creating an air vacuum into the body so it was totally flat, even able to be used in photo-astrography for which only glass plates were really reliable. Also by Kyocera came the first (and last) autofocus rangefinder system. Nikon and Canon were pushing the limits of physics with their ultra-fast sequence shooting, unmatched by digital computing cameras until much later. For the casuals there was a whole world of compacts made in Japan so sophisticated that they made true Kodak’s promise of you pressing the button and the lab doing everything else. Quality wise, users of compact cameras still still aren’t where they were in the 90’s. All this gone. Lost in time like tears in the rain.

And yes, some of those wonders you can find in my store. So enjoy. I mean, buy.

Walking your Leica II

I'm sexy and I know it
I’m sexy and I know it

You know, when Oscar Barnack, the all-maker, gave the first Leica to us, he had a very specific idea of what he wanted to achieve: he wanted to give us a camera that was small enough to fit in your pocket and light enough to carry it on a sunday hike. That is, of course, the official story by Leitz, first owner of the Leica brand, and as storytelling goes, it is probably bullshit. More or less. Because you can’t trust someone who’s trying to sell you something. Except for me, the most honorable of merchants. You can trust me head-on because I love you more than I love my business. I like this creation myth though; just in the sense that it is so stereotypically German that it is almost hilarious. I see the eyes of Doktor B wide open in a closeup, the plane slowly travelling out and showing a demented grin: “Eureka! I vill kreate a kamera für zee hikers!”; all this in b&w 1930’s cinema film. Just sublime.

Why do I distrust the hiking camera myth? My two cents: too politically correct in its context to be true. Because, let’s admit it: if you build cameras, or cars, or battleships, your primary goal is selling them and everything else you’re going to add to this is just marketing.Baron I, is an exception to that, of course.

Besides, the Leica I, II, and III are too much great cameras just to be aimed at a niche market. I simply do not believe that those marvels were intended to just be ‘portable’ cameras; they weren’t just gizmoes that compromised quality just for the sake of portability. Simply because they didn’t compromise quality at all, having superb mechanics and great lenses from the very beginning. Just look at the first massively-produced interchangeable lens for 35mm, the Leitz 50mm 3.5 Elmar, which was sold as the simplest kit lens with the first wave of Leicas. It was rocket tech compared to its competitors in the portable camera world, at 6×9 format, which were much slower and simpler designs. So sorry, I can’t believe that the Leica was intended as a camera just for those not willing to carry a 6×9 folder to a climbing excursion in the Alps. Its superior design, choice of materials, and finish were too ambitious; the Leica aimed to much at the stars for me to believe that the Leitz family didn’t intend from the beginning to take over a significant part of the market. Not to mention the immense possibilities that a so small quality camera enabled.

Those who said that the cinefilm format was too small to take quality pictures with tended to obviate the fact that the 6×9 format was more intended to make copies by contact than to be enlarged. 35mm pictures enlarged to, say, 50x70cm are quite difficult to tell from 6×9 ones, and if you’re using a shitty doublet, as many 120 and 127 cameras happened to mount, they’re for sure going to be much better. The Leica was perfect for what it was meant to do. Which was almost everything, at least in real world situations. Yes, I have been picking at Leica so much that I felt like I needed to tell everyone how great I think the first Leicas really were in their context. I’m like the kid at your first grade class that picks on the girl he likes to draw her attention, just because he is so idiot to try any other form of interaction. That’s for you guys at Solms. If you would send a Leica MP to me, I would accept it. Reluctantly. Shiny black paint. And vulkanite cover. And normal framelines. Oh, well.

And the subliminal message in this article is that you want to buy a screwmount Leica from me. Now that’s it.

Porrostuff

Nice
Nice

Ah! Another strange beast. Not because its rarity; in fact, it’s quite a common camera, but take a look at it. How on earth did them people at Olympus manage to put a reflex camera into this tiny compact body. Well I guess that the vertical half-frame (18x24mm) helped, but still… No, it’s a joke, I know everything about cameras: the magic trick here is a double porroprism, which in my language sounds quite funny. Porroprism rigs are potentially much smaller than pentaprisms, which allowed them guys at Olympus to build an SLR camera that was smaller than a 35mm rangefinder.
Main drawback: the image will be dim as hell, but hey, it’s so small.
One curious thing about this camera is that I’ve heard that long since now, in the era of the all-analog film making the Olympus PEN FT was highly coveted by still photography pros in the movie sets, as it offered the chance to shoot stills with frame ratio similar to that of cinema cameras. Now, with the digital age being irreversible both in photography and film making, it’s no more than a curiosity… But hey, it’s shiny and chrome, and you and me know that the gods of photography favor those who shoot with style.

Aaaaaaand, yes, I always have one or two in my store cause they’re so cool, so now you know where to buy one.

Going Alpha male

Alpha, bro
Alpha, bro

See what an adapter can do? Of course focus is a little tricky cause this lens, the ‘FED Summar’ was collimated specially for its native body, which, I will totally casually add, is for sale in my store, bundled with the lens.

It’s a pleasant lens to use anyway, if you can endure the inconvenience of the focussing lever and the flare wide-open.

Someone once said that adapters were the most disruptive gadget in the camera industry: ten bucks and you can bypass the schemes of first brands. Of course, first brands don’t make them because they want you to use their lenses. Besides, it would be bad marketing for them to advertise that one of the advantages of your system is that you can use glass from competitors.

But in my opinion this is what the Sony Alpha was all about: being able to use all kinds of classic lenses on a full-frame shiny-new digital camera without having to sell your firstborn to the devil to be able to pay for it. What I really mean: you could already shoot with your Summicron on a FF camera before the Alpha 7, but it had to be an M9, which at the time was close to four grand used.

The Alpha 7 has been the most interesting thing that has happened in digital photo gear since, well, forever.

And them guys at Sony sure know how to make shit up: Alpha. Lack of subtlety and appeal to testosterone make sure photo gear territory stays the turf of machoes for yet another generation. Like peeing in the corners. No girls allowed.

Now, you know that what I love most in this world is you reading my blog, and I know you like me to be happy, and all this and, well, do you know what I love even more than this? You buying stuff from my store. Because heaven holds a place for those who make others happy, and I would be ecstatic if you bought something.

E is not for Excellent

A nice all black export version
A nice all black export version

Back to Zenits it is, then. Now, what’s after Zenit 6? Zenit 7? After the 6, them guys at KMZ decided that they were done with numbers and that they would start using letters. ‘E’ was as good as any other, I guess. Numbers weren’t the only thing over, as you can see: the external design departs fully from the Leica-ish rounded corners body and becomes more Contax-ish: an irregular octagon. It’s arguably a more comfortable design. Maybe. No, I’m not going to admit that the Contax handled better than the Leica.

Continue reading E is not for Excellent

Bashing Lomography, just for the sport

The shameless Cosina CX-2 copy that started it all. According to Lomography's corporate BS
The shameless Cosina CX-2 copy that started it all. According to Lomography’s corporate BS. BS stands for bullshit. Geez, grow a brain.

Yes, this day just ought to come. If you’re one of those bitten by the analog photography bug, I’m sure that you have an idea of what Lomography is. And if you have half a brain, I’m also sure that you know that their marketing is bullshit storytelling for hipsters. Oh, it’s so post-modern. Lomography is a brand that takes a lot of heat for pricing policies, but my beef with them is totally different. The one thing I find obnoxious about them is how they treat their potential customers like we’re retards. There are dozens of lomography products I would buy, but rewarding their communication policy just makes me sick. I mean, sometimes I, children, am a bit condescending on you, my few readers, but I do so because I know you can take a joke and that you will pick me with a grain of salt. Or more than one. I would crap my pants if someone ever took what I write here at face value, and that is the only thing that is for real about my writing.

Continue reading Bashing Lomography, just for the sport

Medium format smells funny

Attachment-1

Sniff, sniff, something’s rotten in filmland, people. The last few years have seen an acute decrease in price of used medium format camera gear, specially pro medium format stuff. The only MF cameras that still fetch a big moolah tag are those specifically intended for amateur use, and even those are pretty cheap compared with what they used to be. Digital has finally killed 120 film in the pro area. Not only digital backs for medium format systems are cheaper and better, but there are also non modular cameras with ENORMOUS image sensors like the Leica S series, capable of taking huge images. Also, smaller full frame digital sensors are becoming better and better. Pro photogs are not like us, boys and girls, but mostly boys, errr… Ok, from the beginning. I was saying that, unlike amateurs, who like shiny and chrome and complicated, pros like matte black and easy.

Continue reading Medium format smells funny

Central shutter X-travaganza: Zenit fourfivesix

Yes, the filter thread is bent. Geez, will you always see only the bad side of everything?
Yes, the filter thread is bent. Geez, will you always see only the bad side of everything?

You know, in the 1960’s central shutter 35mm SLRs were the rage. Big camera makers, specially German but also Japanese, incorporated them into their offer as a cheaper option for those who wanted to see what they were shooting through a lens. This means they aimed them at amateurs, universally. Those camera systems were pretty limited if compared to the pro focal-plane shutter systems: most models were fixed lens cameras, specially the Japanese, so if you wanted to shoot a different focal length than that of the native lens you had to use an optical adapter, similar to that crap used in the cell phones nowadays when them hipsters want to shoot ‘fisheye’ or ‘tele lens’. The adapters did the job, but optical quality was quite meh. Kodak’s approach to this tech was a system with three optical elements built in camera with a bayonet for objectives that could contain one or more elements for different focal lenses. Anyway, the range of focal lengths was quite poor.

Continue reading Central shutter X-travaganza: Zenit fourfivesix

Baron I, exposed!

My first camera. Mine!

Let’s play a game. What is Baron I’s favorite thing to write about? If you said cameras, you’re wrong: as much as I love boasting about my cameras, Baron I’s favorite subject is Baron I. We’re going to leave Zenits aside for a minute and talk about how all this madness began.

First of all, you should know that Baron I has a secret personality. Much like Superman, I was born Baron I and I’m Baron I most of the time, but I conceal my camera superpowers below a much less awe-inspiring facade, just for not having to deal with nubile female groupies all the time. Let’s call this persona “Citizen I”. I must confess that sometimes I enjoy leaving my blue blood at home and mixing with the common rabble as Citizen I. Even though, my inherent, sheer, aristocratic aura spills out of me all day long, so it’s a struggle.

Continue reading Baron I, exposed!

Shiny seventies

Eeeew. But I like it. I need help.

Let’s leave Zenits apart a little bit now and talk about another immense, glorious, immortal, victory of the USSR in the consumer goods field: the Kiev SLRs. Well, the first generation of them. It is not that the second generation wasn’t an immense, glorious and immortal victory, but I have two hands only, so I can only bash one generation of Soviet victories at a time. 

If you think Zenits are not a nadir of design, here above is a Kiev 15. You can call it whatever you want, I call it butt ugly. But I kinda love ugly cameras, you know.

Continue reading Shiny seventies